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Carnivorous Plants/my dionaea and sarracenia are starving


Hi. I've just bought a Sarracenia (I don't know what species it is# and a Dionaea Muscipula and it seems that they have not had food for weeks. I know this because here its Winter and at this time, all the insects are hibernating from the cold. So that means that they have not been able to eat anything so far this winter and I don't want them to starve#By the way, can plants become hungry or starve?)Please can you tell me how I can feed them again and if they will survive or grow any more for the next 2 winter months. Also, I have some fish pellets (King British Goldfish Sinking Pellets to be exact) and I need to know if I can feed them these. Please help me.

Hi Daniel,

Ahh Daniel, you are about to begin a journey that will be exciting, and surprising as you learn to grow carnivorous plants.  Few adventures in gardening are as rewarding as learning to grow these amazing plants, and that is what they are, plants, not animals.

That is the important place to begin.  Because carnivorous plants capture insects and other animals at times to supply their nutrient needs it's often assumed that they are like animals.  They're not; not in any significant way.  Animals, like us, eat to get energy to run our cells along with all the micro-nutrients to supply the different chemical functions and building specific proteins, nucleic acids, blah, blah, blah...  Plants work differently, however.  They don't get energy from their "food".  The make it, through photosynthesis - sun energy.  They still need inorganic materials that we call plant food/fertilizer.  This includes Nitrogen, Phosphorous, Potassium, Calcium, Magnesium and a whole bunch of micro-nutrients.  

Now regular plants get all this stuff through their roots from decomposing material in the soil.  Carnivorous plants, however, live in environments such as bogs and fens that are very low in nutrients, and organic matter breaks down very slowly.  They don't have much available to their roots, but they don't have to compete for sunlight in these places.  They have adapted over the eons to get those soil nutrients in a different place, animals.  So essentially, carnivorous plants are getting fertilizer from the insects they catch, but they still get all their energy from the sun, just like other plants.  Carnivorous plants are also adapted to exist on smaller amounts of nutrients, just like Orchids, Tillandsias and many Bromeliads.

So after all that, here is the answer to your questions.  You need to focus on gardening, not pet care with carnivorous plants.  Feeding them is the absolute, dead last, least important thing about their care.  If you never fed one a bug ever, it probably wouldn't die.  Deprive one of adequate sunlight, forget to water it, place it in an inappropriate environment (keeping hardy plants indoors for instance), however, be ready to toss it on the compost pile.

Since you have Sarracenia and Venus flytraps, those are considered hardy perennials.  In places like the Pacific Northwest of the U.S. where we live, or the British Isles where you are, these plants should be outside.  They can handle temperatures as low as -6 C and much colder with some common sense protection outdoors.  Now having said that, if your plants were purchased from a nursery that had them forced indoors, they may be out of season, so you would need to keep them in a sunny window until about late April, then they could go outside to stay.

If your plants do appear to be in active growth right now, give them an occasional fly or other bug, but otherwise don't worry about it.  If you have any pet stores nearby, you could get a small quantity of young crickets and give them, but otherwise they will catch lots of bugs once you put them outdoors in the spring.  Being attentive to the sun and watering requirements is far, far, more important.

Right now it's important to educate yourself on growing carnivorous plants.  Doing that will keep you from killing the plants you have, and any new ones you get in the future from typical beginner mistakes.  Here's a link to our care sheet pages:  I also strongly recommend you get a copy of either or both, "The Savage Garden" by Peter D'Amato, or "Insect Eating Plants and How to Grow Them" by Adrian Slack.  Slack's book was the first book I bought many years ago that helped me to be successful for the first time growing CP.  Here's a reprinted version of it:  He had a nursery in England for many years.  Our DVD series is also a valuable tool since they offer hands-on learning.  We don't just tell you, we show you.  Here's a link to those:  The Internet can be a useful tool once you have some experience, but when you're first starting, it will just confuse you since you will read so much conflicting information.

After you've had a chance to do some reading, feel free to visit us back here at Allexperts if you have specific questions, or need clarification.  I won't address "How-to" questions here since that is to be found in the sources above, but I'm happy to address problems, and clarification of information.

Good Growing!

Jeff Dallas
Sarracenia Northwest

Carnivorous Plants

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Sarracenia Northwest


If your carnivorous plant is showing poor growth, discoloration, abnormal leaves or possible infestation, the expert growers at Sarracenia Northwest can help! They have a great depth of experience dealing with diseases, pathogens, and abnormal growth in carnivorous plants.

Before submitting your question, please read their care guides on their main website. Many issues can be addressed by simply adjusting your growing conditions as recommended in the care guides. Click here to read the care guides.

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Jeff and Jacob are owners and growers of Sarracenia Northwest. They've been in business since 1995. Watch their professionally produced DVDs, Grow Carnivorous Plants. It is a three-volume set that covers all aspects of carnivorous plant care. They literally show you how to be a successful grower!


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